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False eyewitness identification: Common cause of wrongful conviction

There are several factors, including flaws in the eyewitness identification process that may contribute to a wrongful conviction.

Justice is not always served in a Louisiana court of law. In some cases, innocent people are charged and convicted of violent crimes they did not commit. They may be sent to prison for a significant amount of time, and some people may even end up on death row. According to the Innocence Project, 329 people have been set free from prison since 1989, after DNA evidence showed that they were innocent. Countless more people remain behind bars, serving time because of a flawed judicial system. Eyewitnesses who misidentified an innocent person as the perpetrator of a crime, contributed to 72 percent of those wrongful convictions. Although a multitude of studies prove that the eyewitness identification process is unreliable and inaccurate, eyewitness identification and testimony are still allowed as admissible evidence in court.

Problems with eyewitness identification

According to the American Bar Association, lineups that are disorganized may lead a witness to choose the wrong person. For example, if the perpetrator is said to have an identifiable physical characteristic, like a beard or tattoo, there should be more than one person present in the lineup that has that characteristic. Furthermore, comments or gestures from lineup administrators may unintentionally lead witnesses to choose a certain person from the lineup.

Not only are there procedural problems with the physical and photo lineup process, certain environmental conditions can make it hard for eyewitnesses to accurately perceive certain details of a crime. The following crime scene conditions should also be considered when determining the accuracy of an eyewitness identification.

  • The amount of light present at the crime scene
  • How far the witness was standing from the suspect
  • Whether the suspect was wearing a mask
  • If there was a weapon used during the crime

The way the human memory stores and retrieves information may also be to blame for wrongfully identifying innocent people. Studies published by PBS.org indicate that human memory is highly susceptible to influence. As people learn more information about a crime, they may inadvertently change their recollection of what the suspect looked like or what happened during the incident.

Eyewitness misidentification sent an innocent Louisiana man to prison, where he served 25 years. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for rape. The victim chose the innocent man’s picture out of a three-photo lineup, even though the photo of the man was eight years old. No other suspect was investigated after the false identification. DNA evidence led law enforcement to the actual criminal 25-years later.

Partner with a legal representative

Louisiana residents who face criminal charges may want to consider partnering with an established defense attorney. With a thorough knowledge of Louisiana state and federal law, a criminal attorney may help you explore your options and walk you through the legal process.

Keywords: eyewitness, identification, wrongful, conviction